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Photograph by Noe Montes
All Fun and Games: San Francisco sketch-comedy troupe Kasper Hauser headlines 'Maximum Funny,' a benefit for KUSP organized by former UCSC student and 'Sound of Young America' host Jesse Thorn.

Payback Time

Jesse Thorn, America's Radio Sweetheart, hosts a benefit comedy fest for KUSP, the Santa Cruz station that launched him to fame and riches

By Traci Hukill

In the Kasper Hauser sketch "Phone Call to the 14th Century," contestants on a game show get 30 seconds to impart all the useful information they can to the Middle Ages. When the bell rings, the first contestant, who intends to focus on hygiene and bombs, launches into a hypertensive, rapid-fire list of instructions that promptly veers off course.

"Don't be scared write everything down boil your water wash your hands there's no such thing as witches everybody floats you can make an atomic bomb just chop up the smallest piece of matter; you'll be in the driver's seat, trust me ... fish walked out of water he can talk that means there's no God ... um, pick up stuff ... don't throw away the center of the donut, you can sell it ... oil, syrupy black stuff in the ground, burn it make the motorcycle make the factory ... some of the popes are evil. Some of the popes are evil!"

Kasper Hauser, the San Francisco sketch-comedy team of Rob Baedeker, Dan Klein and John and James Reichmuth (twins, not married) are unusual for two reasons: they're really funny, as in you won't have to worry about squirming in your seat while they bomb; and they're from San Francisco, which is strange because most comedy acts this talented would have high-tailed it to Los Angeles or New York by now.

Jesse Thorn, who got his "friends/mentors/heroes" in Kasper Hauser to headline this weekend's "Maximum Funny" benefit for KUSP, explains that between them, the members of the sketch team pack a medical degree, a law degree, a Stanford professorship and a lot of advanced coursework in literature. "The reason they're in the Bay Area is because they have real, high-paying jobs," says Thorn.

Thorn knows all about real, high-paying jobs. As the host of The Sound of Young America, which was picked up by Public Radio International last July and now airs in a dozen U.S. markets, Thorn now rakes in a princely sum approximately equal to his old salary as a receptionist. He and his betrothed now shop with carefree abandon at the Trader Joe's in their Los Angeles neighborhood (though "not at Gelson's, the high-end place"). And it's all because of KUSP.

Thorn, also known as America's Radio Sweetheart, started hosting his interview program at KZSC in 2000. After graduation and a move to San Francisco, he continued coming to Santa Cruz once a week to do his show, but the drive was a drag, and at the first opportunity Thorn accepted an offer from KUSP to pick up The Sound of Young America. Since KUSP has board operators (i.e., a show host doesn't need to be sitting in the booth), he could do it from home and send the tape. He sold the Subaru, bought some equipment and started recording the show in his apartment. A couple hundred episodes later, Thorn won the notice of someone at WNYC in New York. Six months after that the PRI offer came, and now Thorn's getting writeups in Esquire and TimeOut.

Thorn says this weekend's show is his way of doing something for KUSP. "I know how rare it is to have a station with an independent vision," he says. "Lately KUSP has taken a bit of a beating from the [failed KAZU] merger situation. When all that stuff happened, I felt like, 'What can I offer them? Well, I could ask my comedy friends to perform for free.'"

Besides Kasper Hauser, Saturday's show features Brent Weinbach, who Thorn says can "kill in any kind of room," and 2005 UCSC grad Mary Van Note, a quirky Sarah Silverman type with shocking material in a cute delivery. Put it all together, and you might want to get there early.

MAXIMUM FUNNY, with Kasper Hauser, Brent Weinbach, Mary Van Note and Jesse Thorn, is Saturday, May 24, at 8pm at Kuumbwa, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz; tickets $22 general/$20 KUSP members,

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